In this paper I would like to present the role of women martyrs played in the Christianity, and how they were negated from the history and the church.
Who was (were) a martyr or martyrs?
The word ' martyr' is derived from μάρτυς (martus), the Greek word for "witness”A martyr is a person who is put to death or endures suffering because of a belief, principle or cause. The death of a martyr or the value attributed to it is called martyrdom.
In different belief systems, the criteria for being considered a martyr is different. In the Christian context, a martyr is an innocent person who, without seeking death, is murdered or put to death for his or her religious faith or convictions. An example is the persecution of early Christians in the Roman Empire. Christian martyrs sometimes decline to defend themselves at all, in what they see as an imitation of Jesus' willing sacrifice. Martyrdom arose quite naturally out of the work of proclaiming Christ as the only Lord and Savior and none beside him. It is therefore, specifically for this reason that the Christians died and in turn imitated Christ’s passion of suffering and through it teaching a lesson.
Women Martyrs: In the History of Christianity we can find out many women maratyrs which have given their lives for the Faith. It starts from the early Christian era of persecution to the reformation period, from East Christians to the West Christians. The womens like Perpetua, Felicity, Blandina… etc are some of the figures that can be seen.
Who were Perpetua and Felicity:
They are the two women martyrs who are martyred in the third century. By order of Septimius Severus (193–211), the emperor of Carthage, all imperial subjects were forbidden under severe penalties to become Christians or Jews. Out of the six who were arrested in Carthage during the persecution of Septimus Serverus in 202-203, Perpetua was a leader of a group and a daughter of a wealthy provincial the mother of a nursing infant, and Felicitas was her slave and she was eight months pregnant. She was 21 or 22 years old when she was arrested, a married woman with an infant whom she was breast-feeding. She was also a catechumen along with Perpetua in the Christian religion. After their arrest, and before they were led away to prison, they all were baptized. They had to undergone a drastic Persecution before her martyrdom. The Christians were then condemned to be torn to pieces by wild beasts, for which they gave thanks to God. They were killed in the amphitheater. After, both of them venerated by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox church. They are also recognized by the Lutheran church and the Episcopal Church. 7th march is known to be as their Feast day.
She has written her account in the prison. It was later collected and translated to the Latin. It can be seen as the first to write in a feminist perspective. This account is clearly pregnant with her views towards the society and the church and the Christianity. In Kastner’s words, “The account helped to establish the symbolism of Christian martyrdom for centuries to come……. The account demonstrates the emergence within the church of a prophetic movement in which women assumed leadership roles indicative of a degree of male and female equality unknown in later periods of Christianity. It vividly portrays Perpetua’s conscientious objections to certain restrictive elements within the third century Carthagian society, and symbolically suggests that her liberation from these restrictions was accomplished through a transcending of the expectations placed upon her female sexuality,”
Reflection: (In the perspective of Women in Christian History)
The common idea of women in both Christianity and the non-believing world was that the sex was inherently weaker and flawed, female martyrs gained respect in the eyes of the world because of their tenacious adherence to their beliefs, their mental and physical perseverance in the face of terrifying circumstances, and their equality with men and association with Christ found their suffering.
Contrary to the stereotype of women as having weak minds and changeable associations with religions, women chose to openly follow Christ with the knowledge that their adherence to the faith would attract persecution not only from without but also from within the Church itself. For a woman to proclaim herself a servant of Christ and to act as a leader within the Church was a bold move that many Christian men opposed.
InPerpetua’s account she states that, she was about to battle with the Egyptian and she suddenly she became a man. Kastener indicates that, “in keeping with spirit of the narration it seems erroneous to interpret this as a belief in one’s having to become a man in order to be saved.”
Though more men than women were martyred, the Roman government then considered the martyrdom of women an opportunity to make a public spectacle of the Christian faith. Expecting Christian women to react in terror and cowardice when faced with painful deaths, the Roman government concluded that the martyrdom of women would prove that any faith in which this flawed sex is given freedom and equality with men before a deity is a weak and foolish religion. However, such women as Perpetua, and Felicitas shocked the Empire with their refusal to recant their beliefs.
Tertullian recognised that, as martyrs, women were on par with men, but when it came to church organisation and the duties and functions therein, he gave them a considerably more circumscribed role, and never includes women in a hierarchy of the church.” Eventhough the martyrdom of Perpetua been recorded, the language which the editor used is erotic symbolism. It shows the male supremacy over a woman.
The historiography has negated the making of history by the women so as the church. Here our task is to find out the roles played by the women in building up of the Christianity. Then the questions arises are how far it is possible in a maledominated world? How much importance we give for the living women martyrs?
Balasundaram, F,J. Martyrs in the history of Christianity (Bangalore, UTC) 1997.
Wilson- Kastner, Patricia, et. Al. A Lost Tradition: Women Writers of the early church. (Lanham:University press of America) 1981.
Sebastian, jayakiran. “Martyrs and heretics: aspects of the contribution to women to early Christian Tradition.” In Feminist Theology: Persepective and Praxis. Ed. Prasanna Kumari, ( Chennai: Gurukul Summer Institute,1998)
 Balasundaram, F,J. Martyrs in the history of Christianity (Bangalore, UTC) 1997. p.70
 Wilson- Kastner, Patricia, et. Al. A Lost Tradition: Women Writers of the early church. (Lanham:University press of America) 1981. P.1
 Op.citt. Wilson- Kastner, Patricia. P2-3.
 Op.citt. Kastner. P.10.
 Sebastian, jayakiran. “Martyrs and heretics: aspects of the contribution to women to early Christian Tradition.” In Feminist Theology: Persepective and Praxis. Ed. Prasanna Kumari, ( Chennai: Gurukul Summer Institute,1998) P.139.